In honor of Mother’s Day, MADRE would like to honor mothers around the globe who are striving to create positive social change. Last year, MADRE profiled women who are leaders in the communities of MADRE's sister organizations. This year, we would like to highlight some of their stories on our blog and provide an update on their continued work towards social justice.
Fatima Ahmed: Planting Seeds and Putting Down Roots (Sudan)
Ask Fatima Ahmed about the challenges of balancing work with raising her young sons, and she is frank. "I never rest. It takes a lot of energy." For years, she has served as the director for Zenab for Women in Development, a community-based women's organization in Sudan. In a country roiled for decades by civil war in the south and more recently by bloodshed in Darfur, Zenab has partnered with MADRE to provide emergency aid to displaced women and families and to support women in refugee camps, who are routinely targeted for sexual violence.
Fatima works with women farmers, many of whom bring their babies into the fields with them everyday. The women have organized a union, part of an effort to recognize the key role played by women in agriculture and the need for more resources, like seeds and farm tools, to sustain their work and their communities.
Occasionally, Fatima's work requires her to leave her own children for weeks on end, as she travels to rural communities throughout Sudan. The separation can be difficult, but she explains, "I know how much I love my children, and I know that I want everything for them. That is why I feel so much for other mothers who want the same but cannot provide it. When my kids ask me why I'm leaving, I tell them that I'm going to help other mothers and kids who cannot afford the things they have."
She attributes her drive and her commitment in large part to her own mother, who was also a community leader. "Since I was a child," says Fatima, "I saw my mother's compassion for the people around her. Women in the community would come to her for help, and no matter what, she would always welcome them and help them with their problems." Zenab, the organization that Fatima founded, is named for her mother, and the values and goals it embodies are clearly inspired by her legacy.
Update: Last year, the union grew to over 2,000 members and MADRE and Zenab provided seeds to 500 women in 20 villages. For more information, click here.
Yanar Mohammed: Motherhood as a Source of Strength (Iraq)
"Becoming a mother," says Yanar Mohammed, "changes you from an individual into someone who is inextricably connected to—and responsible for—other people's lives." In her own life, Yanar has built on that connection through founding the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Yanar has dedicated herself to meeting the needs of Iraqi women and families suffering as a result of the US invasion and the rising religious extremism it has unleashed. Together with MADRE, OWFI has founded a network of women's shelters in Iraq. In addition, OWFI's unique Freedom Space project brings together young poets and artists of varying religious and ethnic backgrounds to create art and express their hopes for a peaceful Iraq where human rights are cherished.
In the context of US occupation and civil war, Yanar's work has proven dangerous. But she is driven to fight for peace and human rights, in part because she is a mother. "When you are responsible for a vulnerable life, it changes your own. You realize that millions of people can become vulnerable as a result of some situation that they didn't create—a war, a famine, an occupation. Being a mother is about making the connection between the life you have brought into the world and all life. It's about stepping up to meet the needs of those who are vulnerable."
"Early motherhood, especially, can be destabilizing in its many practical challenges, like sleeplessness and the disappearance of any 'free time.' But learning to meet those challenges can also be empowering. It makes you more durable, and ultimately, more willing to take on the work of nurturing. Developing that capability prepares you for the even bigger mission of creating social change. You see that any big, positive change needs to be birthed, nurtured and committed to with constancy. I see this in the women of Iraq. They are more prepared for the challenge of living through this difficult time than their men, more resilient because of the experience of being mothers."
Update: Last year, this project brought together nearly 1,400 people and featured musical performances and readings by young women and men advocating peace and women’s rights in Iraq. For more information, click here.